Was Nancy Ward actually a Georgia or South Carolina Peach?

by Richard Thornton, Architect & City Planner

Read my lips!   There was NO Battle of Taliwa!  

Even as you read this article, the official bio of Nancy Ward continues to evolve as more and more people add subtle changes to the story in genealogical publications, which are then added to Wikipedia as facts.  Her obituaries in Tennessee newspapers placed her at age 70, when she died in 1824.  There is nothing about her being descended from a great Cherokee chief. Her father had been an Indian trader named John Ward, then she married her first cousin, Bryant Ward.  Her assistance to white settlers during the bloody days of the American Revolution were mentioned.  Readers were also told that she saved the life of Lydia Russell Bean when most of her family were massacred by a Cherokee war party then Nancy nursed her back to health.  Both stories seem to be true. 

An accretional novel in progress 

Most of the other “facts” that you read about Nancy Ward, originated in a dime novel, published by John Ward, a distant cousin, about four years after her death . . .  a novel based on her life, published by Sterling King in 1895 or a semi-fictional account of her life by Oklahoman, Emmet Starr, in 1922.  A Cherokee medical doctor, Starr described the story of Nancy Ward as a “legend,” but his account is cited as historical fact. 

As for Native American folklore . . . unlike the Oklahoma Cherokees and Muskogees, who have been repeatedly uprooted, my Creek and Uchee ancestors lived in the same spot for over two centuries . . . until the late 20th century.  We had a story that our ancestors were converted to Methodist Christianity at Palachicola by the Rev. John Wesley in 1737.  Total fiction . . . some ancestors did live in Palachicola, but the Methodist Church did not exist until after the Revolution.  However, my Creek ancestors and their famous neighbor, Nancy Hart, DID join a Methodist Society in Ruckers Bottom, when it was formed in 1784.  

There have been radical changes made in the Wikipedia article to make it compatible with the fictional musical about Nancy Ward, now touring the country.  In fact, some changes were made yesterday in this article in response to my current series on Nancy War.  Until a few weeks ago,  the Wikipedia article stated (like all previous versions of her life) that Nancy Ward was a mixed blood, whose grandfather was Attakullakulla, the famous Cherokee chief.   Approximately  57% of all white citizens of East Tennessee will also tell you that they are a direct descendant of Attakullakulla and Nancy Ward through an unspecified Cherokee princess in their ancestry.  Attakullakulla was actually an Indian from the Lake Erie region, who was captured as a child on a Cherokee slave raid.  Now the Wikipedia article says that Nancy was the daughter of the sister of Attakullakulla.  Oh, did I menation that Attakullakulla was an Anatolian (eastern Turkey) word, which has no meaning in Cherokee?  It means “a rider of a roan-colored horse.”  

The Wikipedia article on Nancy Ward has recently been changed to make her a full-blood Indian just like the Nancy in the musical play.  Now her father was not a Indian trader named Ward, but a great Delaware warrior, named Fivekiller.  Nancy actually had a series of cohabitations with white men, which probably produced seven children.  The Wikipedia article has redacted mention of that fact, even though it shows one of now three children having the last name of Walker.   It has also changed the name of some of the children still listed.  Tuskegeetihi is now Hiskytihi. I have no doubt that within a few years, we learn that Nancy was born of a virgin and was sent by the Great Sprit to bring equal rights to all women. 

A daughter of Nancy Ward, Betsy, was a live-in lover of Colonel Joseph Martin, Jr., when he lived in Georgia.  Her white descendants say that she died in Georgia of natural causes around 1808 or later.  Wikipedia as of this week says that she was killed in Northeast Tennessee by militia in 1793.   That don’t make sense.  Her live-in lover was a colonel in the militia!  

Wikipedia now tells you that Nancy prevented a war with the Muskogee Creeks in 1774. Horse manure! Read the Travels of William Bartram. He was there. He attended a treaty conference between the British, Creeks and Cherokees in Augusta. He described the Cherokees as being a broken people, in poor health from chronic starvation and deeply in debt to British traders. They were kept afloat by handouts by the British. He described the Creeks as being at the peak of their military power, much more numerous and haughty to the point of being insolent to the Cherokee delegates, knowing that the Cherokees lacked the military power to do anything about it.

Keep in mind that all of these changes are being made by people, who never had a real Native American in their home and certainly never kissed a Native American.  

This where Bryant Ward lived full-time and Nancy Ward lived part-time. Fort Clarke, named after Major Ellijah Clarke, was the first location of Clarkesville, until 1828.

The Jawja Connection 

The “official history” of Nancy Ward states that she was made a “Beloved Woman” of the Cherokees at age 18 and “married” a white trader, named Briant Ward about 3-4 years after the non-existent Battle of Talliwa. Wait a minute . . . about the time she was shacking up with Bryant Ward in Chota, the men of Chota were massacring the Redcoats, garrisoned at nearby Fort Loudon. That was immediately followed by massacres of white settlers all along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A bloody war followed for four years, which left the North Carolina and South Carolina Cherokees devastated. Such events would certainly put a crimp on lovemaking in the Tennessee Mountains.

There were other major problems with the official story. Wikipedia tells you that after somehow siring a child with Nancy at Chota during the Anglo-British War, Bryant (aka Bryan) Wood returned to his legal wife in South Carolina. Georgia records state that after migrating from County Antrim, Ireland as a child, Bryant lived in the Province of Georgia the rest of his life. He had two wives, his Irish-born wife died at age 20 in 1744 and was buried near the Tugaloo River in Georgia. His second wife was a mixed-blood Cherokee female named Nancy Ward, who out-lived him. The Ward Families eventually settled around Jarrett Manor. During the American Revolution, a fort was built, names Ward’s Station, commanded by Samuel and Bryan (Bryant) Ward. Bryant died in 1800 in what was then Habersham County, but now is Stephens County.

The real history of the Ward and Martin Families seemed to be the best path for fact-checking Nancy Ward’s real life.   Whereas the Cherokees were torn asunder by multiple wars, plagues and forced deportations,  there would be county and state records for the Wards and Martins.   Guess what?   One of the key researchers in the People of One Fire is Dr. Andy Ayers Martin from Toccoa, GA, a direct descendant of the Martins mentioned just above.  Andy told me on the phone that Stephens County had a tradition of Nancy Ward living there (not at Chota) and doing much to keep the peace during the American Revolution. He referred me to a book on the history of his region.

Sure enough, the book, The History of Stephens County, Georgia by Kathryn C. Trogdon [1975] had a great deal of information on Bryant Ward and Nancy Ward. It was specific information, like the exact locations where he lived, who their friends were and how Colonel Benjamin Martin, Jr. met Betsy Ward. One is even given driving directions of site of the fort, where Bryant was stationed during the American Revolution. Stationed? Yep, Bryant Wood was first a Georgia Provincial Ranger and then during the American Revolution, an officer of the Georgia Mounted Rifles, under the command of Major Elijah Clarke. He was close friends and military comrades with Andrew Pickens, Joseph Martin and Benjamin Hawkins, who later became the chief Indian agent for the Southeast.

Thus, Bryant Ward was fighting hostile Cherokees in North Carolina, when he was supposedly shacked up with Nancy at Chota. During the American Revolution, he took part in the invasion of the North Carolina Cherokee lands, then was stationed at fort on the Tallulah (Tugaloo) River. In October 1783, Bryant took part in the last battle of the American Revolution. The South Carolina and Georgia Rangers joined forces to attack the village of renegade Cherokee chief, Sour Mush, where a band of rather bloodthirsty Tories were stationed, under the command of Major Thomas Waters. Several of the Tories, including Waters, escaped with their Indian wives then took refuge on the headwaters of the Etowah River, where I formerly lived. Their descendants are now the “old families” of Dawson and western Lumpkin Counties.

In her book, Mrs. Trogdon tried to interpolate the “official history” of Nancy Ward made by novelists, who lived later on, with eyewitness accounts from her county. However, it is clear that there is a different story. I followed her references and found 18th century and 19th century accounts, which stated that Nancy was the granddaughter of a famous South Carolina Cherokee chief, possibly Wahatchee, who commanded Cherokee forces in the first Anglo-Cherokee War. It is quite possible that Wahatchee was married to a sister of Attakullakulla, but that is not specifically stated.

Wahatchee, himself, though was a Creek, whose band became allied to the Cherokees. Wahatchee means “South River” in Creek and was the name of his band. On the other hand, one of the Cherokee chiefs in South Carolina could have been named Ward. The Wahatchee connection is not definite. None of the South Carolina Cherokee chiefs were known by their Indian names. That could be the reason that she was a Ward before she married Bryant Ward.

The book states that Nancy’s connections enabled her to persuade Northeast Georgia Creeks, South Carolina Cherokees and those Cherokees, living nearby in North Carolina from joining the hostile Cherokees in the American Revolution.

Colonel Martin was also stationed near Bryant Ward’s fort. This where he met Betsy Ward. She moved in with him and accompanied him as his translator, when Martin traveled around the Cherokee Country, trying to persuade the Cherokees from fighting for the British. At the time, Martin was legally married to a woman in Virginia. Martin directly credited Nancy and Betsy Ward with the decision of the North Carolina Cherokees not to give military assistance to Lord Cornwallis’s army . . . a decision that made possible Patriot victories at Kings Mountain and Cowpens.

After the American Revolution, the Tennessee Frontier was still very dangerous because of the Chickamauga-Cherokee War. Nancy Ward had a farm in SE Tennessee, but visited her former lover (now quite elderly) in Georgia frequently during this period. She made friends with the white families in what would become Stephens County, but then was Habersham County.

Many of the Wards and Martins married mixed-blood Native American women. However, most of their mixed-blood Cherokee and Creek offspring chose to live among the whites. Their descendants still live in Northeast Georgia today.

And now you know . . . at least part of the story!

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